Oishinbo a la Carte 2: Sake

After an introductory volume on general Japanese cuisine, this manga series starts specializing with an edition on Japan’s best-known alcoholic drink and other wines.

Oishinbo 2: Sake cover
Oishinbo 2: Sake
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As part of his planning for his newspaper’s Ultimate Menu, journalist Yamaoka explores drinks to go with the food. Lots of preconceptions are corrected, starting with the idea that sake can’t be as good as the best French wines. An argument is made that if well-made sake with no additives is handled as well as wine, kept from light and heat, it can taste as good.

Reading this volume, I learned a ton! I knew a little about Japanese food, but all I knew about sake was that you’re not supposed to pour it for yourself. As various characters are educated, I followed along their journey to appreciate and respect Japanese alcoholic drinks. Often, there’s a component of learning to value their country and culture in the face of global competition; frequently, the target of correction is those who are “over-Westernized”.

One liquor connoisseur spends much of his time drunk out of embarrassment for his country; his disdain for fruity cocktails is matched by Yamaoka’s contempt for the critic’s lack of knowledge about aged spirits. A duck-hunting story demonstrates how fads are foolish to follow. Aging results in tastier food and drink, in some cases, and rich men should take the advice of those who know more than they. They’re taught to avoid showing off and bragging; instead, they learn that the classics are classic for good reason.

One particularly interesting tale concerns a newspaper executive who turns down a promotion that would send him to France because he can’t stand champagne! He’s quickly shown the error of his ways, of course, complete with lessons on how champagne is made.

As in the first volume, the art is … not the draw. The manga style will seem old-fashioned to many readers. Characters have simple, open faces exaggerated during emotional moments. The content is primarily carried through the dialogue, as arguments and speeches make points about the importance of Japanese food and culture.

The second half of the book is one long story about how Japanese relate to sake. Some are prejudiced against “something old drunks” drink; others don’t pay attention to what they drink with particular dishes. Yamaoka sets out to remove their preconceptions, replacing them with surprising assertions. One in particular is that no wine goes well with caviar or seafood, because the alcohol’s sodium content makes the dishes taste too fishy, but sake suits that type of food well. (I’m eager to try this myself, if I can find a good sake.)

The journalists also set up a number of tastings and save a small brewery from going under to an unscrupulous competitor. Because the chapters are chosen from the over 25 years the original series has been running in Japan, the messages can occasionally be repetitious, but that just emphasizes how strongly Yamaoka feels about, for example, how wrong the shortcuts taken by big companies are. The characters learn to value the creations of local craftsmen who respect their ingredients, not the huge, popular firms with big ad budgets who are driven only by profit margin. It’s all a big debate over the future of sake in Japan.

Next up, Ramen (noodles) and Gyoza (dumplings), followed by the much-anticipated-by-me Fish, Sushi, and Sashimi. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)

9 Comments

  1. [...] (Comics Village) Connie on vol. 1 of Knights (Slightly Biased Manga) Johanna Draper Carlson on vol. 2 of Oishinbo: Sake (Comics Worth Reading) Tiamat’s Disciple on vol. 7 of One Thousand and One Nights [...]

  2. [...] All my favorites seem to come out in the same month: Nana, High School Debut, Sand Chronicles, Oishinbo, Black Jack, Parasyte… good [...]

  3. I just finished reading the sake volume today and now I want to go sake shopping using this as a guide on what to look for on the labels… Good, good stuff.

  4. [...] is just as good as French cooking or any other. (A task that takes even more precedence in the second volume, with a case being made for sake being as good as other wines.) It’s not just about food, but [...]

  5. [...] aspects underlying the stories. I’ve previously discussed the second volume of the series, Sake. [...]

  6. [...] the cuisine most identified with Japan in the Western world: sushi. The subjects of previous books, sake and ramen, are familiar to many readers, but they’re more likely to have experienced [...]

  7. [...] thought the Sushi volume would be the most authentically Japanese, or maybe the Sake book, but no. It’s The Joy of Rice that sums up the Oishinbo series and its unapologetic [...]

  8. [...] economics. Additionally, I grew to love the Japanese food manga Oishinbo (which also did an alcohol volume), and I was eager to see more in that genre. Yet Drops of God left me with a mixed reaction. The [...]

  9. […] the drive to raise sake sales by suggesting pairings with Western food, I was reminded of reading Oishinbo a la Carte: Sake. That volume talks about how well sake pairs with seafood; so does this […]

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